By Ibrahim Hewitt
This week saw the first anniversary of the Israeli assault on Gaza, but only one anniversary really matters in 2010: it is now almost 62 years since the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis by the creation of the state of Israel. Hope for one people was created through the killing, displacement and despair of another people. That simple reality, though, is still unacknowledged in many quarters, making it harder than ever to find a realistic solution to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before our eyes. The media has a hugely important role to play in exposing the truth to a wider audience so that reality checks can push the politicians to make a genuine effort for peace. Ignorance is far from bliss and silence – as noted in these pages by Yvonne Ridley – amounts to complicity.
It is now a week since we posted the challenge to the mainstream media to explain their lack of coverage of the Viva Palestina convoy. A story just made for the Christmas period with real-life villains was being almost totally ignored. You will not be surprised to learn that we haven't had any response from anyone in the media offering any explanation; nor has there been any news of Viva Palestina, which tells us a lot about the priorities of the western media. To be fair, the would-be "Christmas Day bomber" diverted attention from the anniversary of the Israeli assault on Gaza, so even that has passed relatively unseen. A notable exception has been the BBC website, which published a set of pictures (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8430248.stm) illustrating how the effects of the Israeli assault and invasion are still hindering the lives of women and children in Gaza. You may recall that of the 1,400 Palestinians killed by the Israelis a year ago, one-third were children and 121 were women. In a society where men have lost their traditional role of breadwinners because of the high unemployment levels, it is often the women who keep the family together. This is true of Palestinian families across the region, in refugee camps as well as more settled communities.
I have been taking another look at George Galloway's book, I'm not the only one, originally published early in 2004. What George had to say then is as relevant now as it was six years ago. Very little has changed. Okay, so Blair and Bush have gone, but are Brown and Obama much better? Same owners, different management, that's all. And nowhere is this more so than in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The really sad thing is that the Yemen connection of the Christmas Day bomber and ongoing tension in Iran have combined to push Palestine – even, as noted above, the anniversary of Israel's invasion – out of the headlines. And the usual suspects in the media, noted for regurgitating whatever the Israeli hasbara machine churns outs, link together Iran's government, Yemen, Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, the Taliban, suicide bombs, Islamists… and Palestinian resistance to the illegal occupation and blockade of their land. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the then Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, remarked that America had now had a taste of what his country faced all the time from Palestinians. Of course, this immediately linked in the common psyche Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation with global terrorism and Al-Qaeda. George Bush, of course, was only too happy for this mockery of the truth to be played out, as were other world leaders and a compliant media, leading many people to believe that the genuine grievance of the Palestinians is all part of the Islamists' plot to overthrow the West.
It is an uphill struggle, therefore, to try to counter that propaganda but the truth has a habit of coming out in the most unlikely of places. The New York Times, for example. There is a popular notion that the American media is all controlled by the Zionists and pushes a pro-Israel agenda. I am not one who goes in very much for conspiracy theories) and, in my experience, this is not entirely borne out by reality, certainly as far as the NYT is concerned. Two recent items support me in that respect.
The first, on the 24 December, was Patrick Cockburn's review of Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco, which is "about two long-forgotten mass killings of Palestinians in Gaza". Cockburn quotes the author himself, who says such incidents, although frequently dismissed as irrelevant in the great scheme of things, "often contain the seeds of the grief and anger that shape present-day events". Indeed, as Patrick Mr. Cockburn goes on to say, "Governments and the news media alike forget that atrocities live on in the memory of those most immediately affected". According to Abed El-Aziz El-Rantisi who in 1956 was 9 and living in Khan Younis, the events "planted hatred in our hearts".
Cockburn also quotes Israeli General Moshe Dayan, who early in 1956 "made a famous speech at the funeral of an Israeli commander killed on the border with Gaza." Dayan asked and answered his own question to explain the Palestinians' "terrible hatred of us?… For eight years now they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home." Israelis, he added, have to be "ready and armed, tough and harsh." Well, his countrymen (and women) certainly took Dayan's words to heart.
His 8 years has, of course, turned into 62 years (and conditions for the refugees have worsened; why is anyone surprised that the hatred is still there?); this is a grievance that long pre-dates Al-Qaeda and 21st century "global terrorism". While Al-Qaeda undoubtedly uses the situation in Palestine as an example of the West's double standards which, it claims, bolsters its cause, to suggest that the Palestinian resistance is part of Al-Qaeda's struggle is to distort history.
At the end of December, the NYT published an article about two children, one Israeli Jew, one Palestinian Muslim, both severely injured by violence committed by adults from the other's community, both in hospital building a strong friendship as well as rebuilding their lives as best they can. The Jewish boy, Orel, lost half of his brain in a missile attack from Gaza, and at 8 years old is learning how to speak and walk all over again. The Muslim girl, Marya, had her neck broken in an Israeli missile attack in which her mother, brother and grandmother were killed. She is also 8 years old and gets around in an electric wheelchair using her chin to operate the controls. This is the human side of the political headlines; two children from opposite sides who have new challenges in life to overcome, and who are doing just that with support from their families who have also found that there is no need for the animosity traditionally found in the two communities.
Marya's father stays in the hospital with her. According to the NYT, a new friend, the father of another patient, is a "former combat soldier" who, when he was asked about their friendship, said, "I was raised as a complete Zionist rightist… The Arabs, we were told, were out to kill us. But I was living in some fantasy. Here in the hospital, all my friends are Arabs." Orel's mother agrees: "Do we need to suffer in order to learn that there is no difference between Jews and Arabs?"
These, then, are two very different articles in one newspaper, one offering a historical perspective of current events, the other showing that behind all the politics ordinary people living through extraordinary times can find common ground for friendship. That should give us hope for the future, because when people are given the opportunity to see through the dishonesty and distortions it is much easier to see the truth. Not having to live a lie, a "fantasy" as the former Israeli soldier calls it, makes it possible to build an honest future. The propagandists in our media – including those who opt for silence ‑ should take note of this very carefully.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.